a tasty reminder of freedom

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Port-au-Prince (AFP) – Mixture of meat, vegetables, pasta and squash that gave it its name, Haitians taste Joumou soup every January 1 to celebrate the New Year and the independence of their country.

Before becoming a symbol of Haitian freedom, the soup was one of oppression.

The enslaved Haitians who cultivated “giraumon” or turban squash, the key ingredient, were not allowed to eat the dish. It was reserved only for French plantation owners.

But on January 1, 1804, when the first republic ruled by blacks was born, Marie-Claire Heureuse F̩licit̩ Рthe wife of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, leader of the Haitian revolution and first leader of the independent nation Рchose to serve the Soupe .

Cooking the Joumou soup “was a way to mark these years of deprivation and oppression, and to claim victory over the colonizers”, explains Nathalie Cardichon, resident of Port-au-Prince, as she buys the ingredients for the dish. national market.

The joumou soup from Haiti has been included in the list of intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO Richard Pierrin AFP

“That’s the meaning of this soup,” she adds.

Traditionally, serving the dish is also a time of reunion for families. But for many, 2022 will be different.

Rise of gangs

In 2021, shortly after the assassination of the Haitian president, the country suffered a devastating earthquake. Political unrest and poverty escalated, as did violence and kidnappings by all-powerful gangs.

The lack of security and the inability to travel on roads guarded by armed gangs forced many Haitians to spend the symbolic day away from their loved ones.

“I have friends at the university whose parents do not live in Port-au-Prince and who cannot return home to the provinces because of the security situation, so I invited them” to my home, says Stéphanie Smith, student in the Haitian capital.

Rosemene Dorceus (started cooking her Joumou soup on December 31, 2021 - she finished the dish the next day
Rosemene Dorceus (started cooking her Joumou soup on December 31, 2021 – she finished the dish the next day Richard Pierrin AFP

Her mother, Rosemene Dorceus, often makes Joumou soup for their family. But for the national holiday, she makes whole pots of them.

That’s enough to feed “about 20 people,” the 54-year-old modestly estimates, but her daughter thinks it all could easily feed at least 30.

“There are eight of us in my family but unfortunately there are people in the neighborhood who cannot afford to make the soup, so we think of them,” said Smith, 27.

Work in the kitchen begins on December 31.

Even before the sun has risen on January 1, the women of the family are busy around the stove.

Dorceus remembers a time when she and her husband cooked soup together, when the children were small.

“Now that my daughters are older, they are helping me,” she says.

Delighted with the family time preparing the feast, Smith says his younger brothers help out a bit, “but they mostly come to eat, especially the meat.”

“Tradition of our ancestors”

The soup rich in history has just received international recognition, UNESCO designating it as part of the “intangible cultural heritage of humanity“.

“Haiti’s struggle and its voice have been made invisible, and now is a way of recording it,” said Dominique Dupuy, Haitian ambassador to the United Nations cultural agency.

Relatives gather for a traditional lunch on January 1, 2022 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Relatives gather for a traditional lunch on January 1, 2022 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti Richard Pierrin AFP

She underlined the “fundamental and crucial role of Haiti in the history of mankind”, as the first country to have abolished slavery.

The designation of joumou soup constitutes a “fair historical correction”, according to Dupuy.

His delegation had done everything possible to obtain the listing, requesting expedited processing of the application in August. On December 16, the designation was granted.

2021 having been an “exceptionally painful year”, it was necessary to have “systems to help us keep our heads high,” said Dupuy, from Cap-Haitien, who suffered a tragedy on December 14 when a truck gasoline engine exploded, killing dozens.

In Haiti, cooking joumou soup, a custom that dates back over two centuries, is a way of honoring the country and its past.

For Cardichon, the merchant, it is a way of inviting the world to “discover the history of Haiti” – and a way of showing “how proud we are as a people, that we take and continue the tradition of our ancestors ”.

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